An article low down on the news page caught my eye. Fashion models have started demanding better treatment from those who employ them. 'Good for them', I thought. No one should have to accept being sexually abused or pressured to strip for the camera. No one should be paid in clothes, not cash. They do a job. It's a competitive industry and this enables those in power to take unfair advantage of them.
Is this so different from the women bishops argument? On the face of it, the two situations are a million miles apart. Priests are called to minister to their communities, models are called to sell clothes. Crossover career options are rare, other than perhaps showing off your new chasuble for a church magazine. Yet there are commonalities. Women are not accepted as they are - the fashion industry wants them to be compliant, disturbingly youthful and thin, ridiculously thin. The Church of England, or more precisely the combination of two powerful minority groups within the CofE, want us to be helpers, assistants, a quiet but hardworking background for the male leadership performance. There is a perception that the gifted female leader is threatening - not for nothing are we still called, maliciously, 'priestesses', with many loaded implications.
Those who are opposed to women in leadership in the church throw biblical texts around, texts selected in isolation and inaccurately translated. My belief, though, is that the texts are an excuse for the underlying belief that women are somehow fine as helpmeets but threatening as leaders. We have been described, over the past week, as 'hysterical' - an insult which should have died out along with the primitive attitudes to female physiology and psychology that coined the term. I do not enter into theological debate about sexism, any more than I do about racism. Discrimination is abhorrent, a moral wrong, and should not be tolerated. Ironically, we have allowed discrimination to continue in the name of 'tolerance' itself.
It is sad to see the Church of England up there on the everyday sexism project, that excellent catalogue of the daily assaults and indignities that women (and sometimes men) endure. Several people expressed their total disbelief that this could happen in this day and age. It is there that we see the common ground between the abuse of models and the abuse of priests. This is not about theology, this is about the objectification of women, who are treated as lesser creatures.
The dreadful decision of Synod has shown up the ugliness of sexual discrimination for what it is - a refusal to accept that we are all, equally, children of God. We are made in God's image, redeemed by God's love and called to worship, and sometimes to lead, in the name of our loving God.
I hope I can put this down for a time. I hope my next post will reflect the joyful anticipation of Advent, and that I will stop looking back to a year when our hopes were raised, lowered and then dashed. We have a gospel to proclaim, and I hope I can now focus on the new church year and sing out the good news once again. It's just not that easy right now.